Montana senators heard yet another round of testimony about sports betting as the Senate Committee on Business, Labor and Economic Affairs on Wednesday kicked off its consideration of two House sports betting bills.
The committee is expected to vote Thursday to move HB 475, a parimutuel bill, and HB 725, a lottery bill, to the Senate Finance Committee, and from there to the full Senate floor. No amendments were proposed to either bill.
Wednesday’s hearings were generally uneventful, though senators spent considerable time quizzing the lottery and the bill sponsor, Ryan Lynch (D-District 78), about how problem gambling initiatives would be addressed in the bill. According to lottery chief Angela Wong, the lottery cannot legally designate funds to specific causes, but there is a provision in the bill for the lottery to support and participate in the fight against problem gambling.
Problem gambling a key concern
Lynch felt that both his track record in crafting legislation related to addiction and the lottery being proactive and including language in the bill to allow it to support problem gambling initiatives helped assuage committee concerns.
“I think there needs to be some recognition of the lottery,” for taking the initiative,” Lynch said.
Besides Wong, Scott Hoss of lottery vendor Intralot, Neil Peterson of the Montana Gaming Industry, and Brad Longboard of the Montana Council on Problem Gambling all testified. Longboard testified as an informational witness, rather than in opposition to the bill, and seemed satisfied that the lottery will work with his group to help stem and treat gambling addictions associated with sports betting.
Montana lawmakers have 10 days to become the first state to legalize sports betting in 2019, as the session closes on April 20, and won’t meet again until 2021. The plan is for the House bills to be before the full Senate by early next week. SB 330, which is a more traditional sports betting bill that would have the attorney general as the regulator, was voted out of the House Business and Labor executive committee, 19-0, on Monday, and is making its way through the process. The end game is to send all three bills to Governor Steve Bullock for approval.